Jimmy Austin was a footnote to one of major league baseball’s most iconic photographs. He was the third baseman upended by Ty Cobb in a July 23, 1910, game at New York’s Hilltop Park as the Georgia Peach slid hard into the base, spikes flashing and dirt flying. The image was caught by photographer Charles Conlon.
Austin also has a connection to another Hall of Famer. He was given a baseball glove by Babe Ruth while he was a coach with the St. Louis Browns during the late 1920s or early 1930s, and it will be one of the key pieces of memorabilia on the block in the 19th Annual Live Auction held by Hunt Auctions at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.
Online pre-bidding has already begun and runs through Nov. 11 at 9 PM. EST. Then the auction will move to a live format on Nov. 12, with bidding available online, via telephone or through an absentee bid.
According to Pennsylvania-based Hunt Auctions, “extensive authentication processes” confirmed that the glove owned by Austin, known as the “Pepper Kid” during his career, was manufactured by Spalding for Ruth’s use.
Lawrence Ritter, whose 1966 audio and written classic, The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told By the Men Who Played It, chronicles several interviews with players from the deadball era. He said he interviewed Austin in 1964, a year before the player’s death at age 85.
“His rear end is the most famous rear end in the history of baseball,” Ritter said in an interview, referring to the Cobb photograph.
But Austin’s friendship with Ruth was more enduring to Austin on a personal level.
“One of his fondest memories is every time Babe Ruth hit a home run against St. Louis, as he rounded third we give a wink or salute,” Ritter recalled. “He’d give a big grin and a wave to Jimmy Austin, and Jimmy never forgot that.”
Ritter said that Austin took him into another room at his Laguna Beach, California, home, “and there he found a glove that Babe Ruth had given him.”
It was an artifact that Austin treasured and kept in a place of honor in his home.
Ruth “had a heart of gold,” Austin told Ritter. The Bambino did not hesitate when Austin asked for one of his gloves.
“So I asked the Babe, ‘Babe, you got an old worn-out glove for me you could spare? He said, ‘By God, I have, Jim.’”
Instead, Ruth gave Austin a relatively new glove that he had just broken in, Austin said.
David Hunt, the president of Hunt Auctions, called the find “nothing short of astonishing.”
“We have been very blessed to have been able to present several of the most significant Babe Ruth-related artifacts to have ever entered the marketplace, including the 1927-30 Ruth professional model Yankees jersey which realized $5,640,000,” Hunt said in a statement. “This monumental glove will assuredly take its rightful position among those record-setting items and is truly one of the most historic pieces of its medium to have ever been offered at public auction.”
The glove had been in Austin’s family for years since his death, most recently with Susan Kolokoff, his niece via his second wife, Esther, whom he married in 1949. Kolokoff said the glove had been stored in a box in the family garage for about 30 years. Family members believed the glove was a store model, but after listening to Ritter’s interview, they realized they had a gem.
Kolokoff, who turned 70 on April 14, told Hunt Auctions that her memories of Austin were “very dear.”
“Whether learning to play gin rummy with him or just enjoying my annual weeklong summer visits to his Laguna Beach home, it was always time that I will cherish,” Kolokoff said. “He was a larger-than-life figure, like a grandfather to me, whose incredible baseball career was such a point of pride. The glove had rested in a box for the last 30 years until we learned of its history and heard the amazing audio recording of my Uncle Jim fondly recalling his dear friend Babe Ruth.
“I am completely stunned by the discovery of the glove’s story and can only imagine the smile that Uncle Jim would flash knowing that this incredible piece of baseball history will now be shared with baseball fans all over the world.”
“As a fielder, he was uncertain,” The Dayton Evening Herald reported in August 1923, when Austin was named manager of the St. Louis Browns. “As a batter he was mediocre. But as a worker he was in a class by himself.”
Dayton reporters knew what they were talking about. Austin broke in with that city’s Central League franchise in 1904 and played three seasons in Ohio before competing for two seasons with Omaha in the Western League. Promoted to the majors in 1909, he embarked on an 18-year career, playing with the New York Highlanders (later the Yankees) in 1909 and 1910 and then with the St. Louis Browns from 1911 through 1922, with one-game cameos in 1923, 1925, 1926 and 1929.
He only had a career batting average of .247, but Austin stole at least 20 bases in six seasons, with 30 during his rookie year and a career-high of 37 in 1913.
The photo of Cobb sliding hard into Austin has also been a coveted piece of memorabilia. One of two known original copies of the image sold for $390,000 in 2020 in a sale by Robert Edwards Auctions.
The Hunt Auctions sale at the Louisville Slugger Museum will have several other Ruth items for sale. A baseball signed by Ruth that became one of the favorite purchases made by the late hobby dealer and promoter Rich Altman has an assigned grade of PSA 8 (near mint to mint) and could fetch between $100,000 and $300,000.
The baseball Ruth hit for his 602nd home run on Aug. 24, 1931, at Chicago’s Comiskey Park — and autographed by the Babe — is projected to sell for between $40,000 to $60,000, according to Hunt Auctions.
Another Ruth autographed ball, signed with “Pride of the Yankees” star Gary Cooper, could bring in between $15,000 to $30,000.
Other stars beside Ruth are featured in the auction.
An autographed 1948 Swell Sport Thrills Jackie Robinson, graded PSA 9, is the only example authenticated by PSA/DNA. Pre-auction estimates place the final bidding price between $100,000 and $150,000.